Not even 10% of the RM7bn 1st stimulus package announced in November last year has been delivered. The Second Finance Minister confessed in Parliament that just RM568m, 8%, of the total had been spent as of February.
Even as we wonder how, where and when the balance of that first RM7bn will be spent, the BN is set to present in Parliament this Tuesday its 2nd stimulus package.
I expect the usual slew of various projects totalling billions and talk of improving government efficiency, with little to show after the media ink has dried on the subsequent approving comments by sycophants.
Given the slow pace and leakages in BN government implementation that we have grown accustomed to, there will be far quicker and greater impact if the funds are put directly into the rakyat’s hands instead. Here are two proposals from me:
1. Support payments to the poorest households. I suggest RM1,000 per month be paid to the 30% of EPF contributors with the lowest incomes. 30% of 5.4m active contributors = 1.6m workers * RM12,000 for one year = RM19.5bn. The multiplier effect from this will be substantial as these contributors will be spending primarily on local products and services, helping to support the domestic economy.
2. Banks have been cutting credit lines, exacerbating the downturn as even good businesses have to curtail activities due to the lack of financing. The government can help with a Special Risk-sharing Initiative (SRI) similar to that proposed by Singapore in its budget. Under this SRI, the government will share the risk of these loans should they turn sour. Banks will still be responsible for assessing credit and sourcing the customers, but if the government agrees to share 50% of the risk of these loans, banks will be more willing to grant credit. SMEs account for c. RM130bn of total loans. Total exposure would perhaps be RM16bn, assuming the government takes 25% of the total and in the unlikely event they all go sour. But in the meantime, this may just be the tonic to alleviate the credit crunch faced by Malaysian SMEs.
Financing the spending is where we run into difficulties, and which is why we have the headline number being bandied about now sharply reduced to just RM10bn, instead of the RM30bn or so being touted earlier. The profligate spending by the BN government during the years of plenty is haunting us now. Unlike, say, the governments of Singapore and Australia which ran budget surpluses during those years, which they are now using to mitigate the recession, the BN government has been incurring deficits and growing our national debt.
The prospect of larger deficits has prompted ratings agencies to cut their credit ratings for Malaysia, and is a part of the reason for the slide in our ringgit's value. So, as a first step, instead of just spending more money, we must look to at least 10% of savings from current government procurement. The 2008 government budget called for c. RM190bn of total spending. Save just 10%, for example from better procurement practices without using consultants and agents, and we would have RM19bn – enough for the EPF support payments!